Climate negotiations continue as Biden prepares for Europe

Key pieces have been tossed overboard as a result of Manchin's opposition

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., left in this 2013 photo, said he’s been making progress in his search for middle ground on the methane fee as he continues to discuss the issue with Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., right. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., left in this 2013 photo, said he’s been making progress in his search for middle ground on the methane fee as he continues to discuss the issue with Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., right. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 28, 2021 at 6:00am

As President Joe Biden prepares to depart for Europe, Capitol Hill Democrats were still searching for a combination of climate provisions that will give him something to tout on the world stage that can also garner the support of Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.

Several Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday confirmed reports that the climate provisions of the budget reconciliation package are expected to land in the neighborhood of $500 billion to $550 billion.

Key pieces have been tossed overboard as a result of Manchin's opposition, however, including the Clean Electricity Performance Program, which would have allocated $150 billion to pay utilities that move away from fossil fuels and use more renewable electricity generation. Climate action proponents also were fighting to retain other pieces, such as funding for a Civilian Climate Corps and a fee on methane emissions.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., said he’s been making progress in his search for middle ground on the methane fee as he continues to discuss the issue with Manchin.

“Most emitters of methane are not going to have to pay a fee because their emissions are so small,” Carper said. “We want to provide incentives for those who are emitting, provide incentives to stop. How do we incentivize good behavior from those that are emitting methane?”

A Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations said proposed changes now on the table include robust rebates and other financial assistance that would go back to the industry to help offset compliance costs.

Methane is a super pollutant that packs much more of a punch on global warming, but one that also dissipates from the atmosphere more quickly. Tackling methane is considered a key path to buy time for action on other emissions.

“It’s essential,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said of the methane fee. “The only way you could make it up is with a really, really strong carbon price.”

Details to follow

He suggested negotiations on the climate portion will follow a two-step process in which they first settle on a dollar-figure-based framework this week and then continue negotiations over the details of how much reduction in emissions can be achieved.

One potential wrinkle in the methane fee talks is that the EPA is expected to soon issue new methane-related regulations. If those rules are aggressive enough in controlling methane emissions, the push for the new fees could lose steam.

Another open question facing negotiators is what to do with the $150 billion that had been allocated for the now-discarded CEPP. Some lawmakers have been pushing to devote that money to promoting transmission and storage of renewable energy.

“Where that money is spent and what committee is less important than what kind of emissions reductions we’re getting,” said Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., who led the crafting of the CEPP proposal.

She pointed to a list of options for reducing emissions, including robust tax incentives and bolstering transmission capacity for renewable energy.

“I strongly support additional funding for transmission because the bottleneck for getting clean energy into the grid is transmission,” Smith said. “I support the idea of a state challenge grant or prize money for states that move forward with advancing a clean energy strategy in their own states.”

For all the talk about what’s been dropped from the original proposals, Democrats sought to highlight what’s likely to remain. Carper pointed to funding for electric vehicle charging stations and “regenerative agriculture,” a collection of practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday also touted its expected manufacturing credits to boost domestic supply chains for solar and wind power, expanded access to rooftop solar, and expanded grants and loans to rural co-ops for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Even at pared-down levels, the climate package would represent the “biggest investment in addressing the climate crisis in history by the United States,” Psaki said.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, had expressed concern about having enough funding in the climate portion of the package devoted to Native American issues, as well as natural solutions and restoration efforts.

Grijalva said it appears those categories will be included, even if the overall funding level has been forced down by a couple of Democratic senators.

“We’re reaching a point of contentment,” Grijalva said. “I don’t think it’s the point of celebration yet.”